REVIEW: Crusoe’s Island from Fell Foss Theatre

Mark Cronfield in Crusoe's Island.

Fell Foss Theatre, the Dales’ enterprising new theatre company, has come up with an excellent first production, Crusoe’s Island, written by Mark Cronfield and produced by Colin Bailey.

What can he and Fell Foss Theatre offer that we haven’t seen before? I went to see the show in Leyburn, and I was impressed and intrigued.

Robinson Crusoe has exercised a remarkable fascination on readers for 300 years since its first publication in 1719

Think Tom Hanks in Castaway, Desert Island Discs and Love Island, and then add 700 more spin-offs derived from Yorkshire’s most famous castaway.

And now there’s another one, Mark Cronfield’s Crusoe’s Island, celebrating Crusoe’s 300th anniversary and touring in Yorkshire and elsewhere over the coming months.

Above all he gives us the story and the man. Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece is about much more than a man on a desert island. It’s about colonialism, race, class, faith, and a foolish young man ignoring his father’s advice, spending twenty-eight years regretting it, enduring intense loneliness and hardship, and returning home a better, wiser and older man.

The show is generous in creating Crusoe’s engaging character, and because Mark Cronfield is a very engaging actor this strategy succeeds. The beard, hair, blue eyes and warm gravelly voice enable him to move from being a vulnerable, foolish young man to an 80+ year old who finds the inner strength to become a dignified and sympathetic figure.

The gravelly voice also enables him to ‘be’ 12 other people. If he also did the voice-overs for the parrot and God, he managed 15 voices in total! His German father is the strongest of these, and there are sea-captains, cannibals and mutineers, making for a one man show with tremendous variety that keeps us involved.

The staging is economical and clever, and in the production’s ingenious conceit, Crusoe has made the set of his own play. It is well used, with a genuinely alarming hurricane which scatters it around the stage, and a really magical moment at the beginning of Act 2. There are also some lovely comic moments (Crusoe is seasick…).

Mark Cronfield is a brave man to put Crusoe on the stage.

He’s a figure of whom everyone will probably have their own image, and who belongs to a very different age: how do you distil over 40 years into 2 hours, including onstage shipwrecks, parrots, God and Man Friday?

And doesn’t everyone know the story anyway? However, the play gets well past the stereotype and reinstates Defoe’s full story, richer and more satisfying by far.

Its language pays well judged homage to the 18th century, and although there is a lot to squeeze into two hours, this is definitely not the Ladybird version.

Dates for Crusoe’s Island in 2020:

Lockington Village Hall, Driffield, Sat 25 Jan 2020, 7:30PM

Lanchester Community Centre, Durham, Sat 22 Feb 2020, 7:30PM

Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes, Tues 25 Feb, 7.30PM

The Mart Theatre, Skipton, Fri 27 Mar 2020, 7:30PM. 01756 709666

Ropery Hall, Barton-upon-Humber, Sat 4 Apr, 7:30PM

All tickets available at